Youngest House members meet Superintendent’s student advisors

CapitolBeatOK Staff Report

Published: 14-Dec-2010

The State Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council (SSSAC) met last week with the three youngest members of the state House of Representatives, all of whom were newly elected Nov. 2.

State Superintendent Sandy Garrett; Josh Cockroft, a McLoud Republican, 21; Elise Hall, an Oklahoma City Republican, 21; and Emily Virgin, a Norman Democrat, 24, exchanged policy ideas with the 50 members of the SSSAC. They also discussed why they chose to seek political office, and fielded questions from students on topics ranging from testing, college-entrance requirements and funding, to dropout prevention, mentoring and administrative salaries.

“This was an exciting, dynamic meeting,” Garrett said. “These three lawmakers are thoughtful, passionate and poised. What they already have accomplished for themselves – and what they aim to accomplish for Oklahoma — is inspirational to both the Council and me.”

“I wanted to stand up for my generation – our generation,” Hall said in explaining why she sought elected office. She challenged the students to get involved in their schools and communities and “get out of your comfort zones.”

Echoing the sentiment, Virgin said that, “I’m of the belief that everything begins with education,” and shared with the students that she made it a point during her campaign to seek out the opinions of teachers and parents and to learn as much as she could about education issues.’

All three lawmakers believed schools should operate under high expectations for all students but believed that “life skills” and the opportunity to volunteer and get involved with organizations should be a protected aspect of the high school experience.

“Life skills teaching needs to occur not just in the classroom,” Cockroft said, sharing he had been very involved in 4H while in high school. “The skills I learned while in 4H are invaluable to me, and we need to make sure these types of opportunities for students are protected.”

According to a state Education Department press release sent to CapitolBeatOK, the three lawmakers answered some tough questions from the students regarding education funding and establishing programs that would help and motivate students most at risk of dropping out of school.

The three shared that the next budget year would be very tough financially and that there was a greater need for civic organizations and churches to partner with schools on such efforts as mentoring programs. All three discussed the need to ensure more money gets into the classroom but that additional funding for any program would be extremely difficult in the short term.

“We’re just being honest,” Hall said. “We’ve got a $500 million budget hole this year and it’s going to be difficult.”

The remainder of the SSSAC’s second meeting of the school year focused on the legislative process, state candidate qualifications in Oklahoma and visiting both the state House and Senate.